At the Center for Ethical Culture, Mark Crispin Miller was one of a great panel of speakers who could have led a wonderful day long teach-in on voter protection but instead we were gifted with about two hours worth of wisdom entitled Make Your Vote Count -- A Forum on New Voting Technology. The event was hosted by Democracy for New York City and Community Free Democrats and sponsored by The New York Society for Ethical Culture and the Sierra Club -- NYC Group, Ansonia Independent Democrats, Broadway Democrats, Park River Independent Democrats, Three Parks Independent Democrats, and Vincent F. Albano Republican Club: quite a gathering of groups in an event which should have been standing room only. Today's infotainment oriented media does not bother much about election fraud, indeed makes light of it, even mocks it, and people are vastly unaware of the threat to democracy that electronic voting poses. That said, I was glad that I was there.
The event was ably moderated by Adam Cohen of the New York Times Editorial Board. He stated that 80% of the upcoming election's votes will be cast on electronic voting machines. Scary thought. We were told that the various machines will be demonstrated Nov. 15 at LaGuardia College (6:30 pm) and again on the 17th in the Bronx. Rush Holts' bill in Congress would require a paper trail and most Dems and some Repubs are for it but it is going nowhere fast, given the political repression of the Bush-Cheney regime. Doug Kellner, co-chair of the NY State Board of Elections. spoke about how those states who quickly rushed in to buy machines will have to spend more money to become compliant with the 2005 standards. New York. He stated New York's choice may be even more delayed, however, due to the addressing audit deficiencies. (And later he said he would like to find some way to keep the lever machines -- which might be a possibility -- as long as one machine for the impaired is available in each polling place. We know these trusty clunky machines record the vote correctly, as long as they are in repair and set on 0 to start the day -- one of the things poll watchers look for.)
David Kogelman, HAVA Committee chair emphasized that we should be in contact with our legislators about our concerns. Of particular note, however, was "retired" software engineer Bo Lipari of New Yorkers for Verified Voting. He began his segment reflecting on how the US spent millions on developing a pen that wrote in space and when they finally talked to the Russians learned that the Russians had solved the problem by using a pencil. Lipari is concerned about how many machines would be needed, they take longer to use and they cost so much. Paper ballots with precinct counted electronic scanners are so much more reliable and sensible -- and auditable. Bo also noted how he was denied the right to see the code on possible machines because they were concerned about the privacy rights of VENDORS -- what about the rights of voters?? Should we choose paper ballots, he reminded us that we will have to have a robust set of procedures documenting chain of custody.
Mark Crispin Miller, too, was wonderful to hear. He noted that this is not a technical issue, it is a civic issue. Votes are counted in secret (maybe -- and then again maybe not counted). And then in Ohio there is the higher costs of recounts now, to thwart democracy. Mark urged us to get the media involved in this issue. "If we don't have the right and power to choose our representatives, our democracy is gone." We were reminded that the price of freedom is eternal vigiliance. Mark noted, too, that we must stress the possible stealing of the Nov. 7th election and urge people to come out en masse because it is harder to steal if the election isn't close. Our democracy is on the line.
Other things that came out: the government has to give much higher compensation and better treatment to the poll workers. We must demand access and transparency to all stages of the voting process, including the 3% absentee ballots. We need poll workers and election protection workers. Congressmember Jerrold Nadler stressed that we must demand that the goverment set up standards to ensure there are enough machines for all who wish to vote. No more Kenyon College fiascos where students stood in line for ten hours to vote. Voter suppression comes at all different stages, not just the counting, but from the registration and voter purges and questionable letters....the list goes on. Mark Crispin Miller urged the use of the Vote Pad for disabled voters. So much to check out. So much to do. But our democracy demands it.
Right now, I am scheduled to assist Citizen Action in getting out the vote on Election Day-- but next year, or at least in 2008, I suspect I will volunteer to help at the polls. I am seriously considering becoming a poll worker. Indeed, if New York switches to paper ballots or whatever is chosen. I want to see how it works. Our democracy is on the line.
PS I hope to post some more photos at my FlickR.com site.